Monday, May 7, 2012

The House That Built Me

When I heard the gravel crunch under the tires I knew that we were there. It also meant the glorious end to the 30 minute truck ride where I was trapped in the cab with the competing smells of my Mom's scented lotion, my Dad's cologne and my sister's Lady Stetson. I catapulted out of the truck and ran past the white clapboard garage and up the well worn sidewalk to the back of the house. I pushed the button on the storm door, yanked it open and shoved my body into the heavy white door that opened into the paneled walls and flecked white linoleum floors of the dining room.

Grandma and Papa's house.


The noise was always coming from the kitchen. There was either music playing, mostly jazz, or the small television that sat on a cart against the wall was on, playing one of her favorite programs. I would yell, "Hi Grandma! We're here!" and I would pass through the doorway of the painted white brick wall; the wall that was the original exterior of the farmhouse that was built in the 1930's. This was the wall where three decades of my artwork was proudly on display. This was the wall that I couldn't pass by without running my hand over it and enjoying the feel of the cool, smooth, painted bricks. This was the wall where, among other special things, the picture of my great great grandmother hung. Even though it seemed to me that I looked like no one in my family, I saw a resemblance to my own narrow face and sharp cheekbones when I looked at this woman. This fact gave me (the fragile artsy girl who loved shoes and reading, yet was being raised in a no-nonsense, back breaking agricultural environment) a much needed sense of belonging. This was the wall that symbolized pride, acceptance, and love... of me, no less.

Behind the wall was the best thing on the planet, for there in that tiny kitchen with the cabinets painted seafoam green and the brown linoleum floor, was my grandmother. At 5'3" she was tiny in stature, yet fierce in her dolman sleeved sweaters with shoulder pads and her cropped silver hair. She always jingled in a way that seemed a little magical, as her delicate wrists carried her much beloved charm bracelet. Her glasses hung from a beaded chain and seemed to nestle in with the long necklaces that she wore. There was always a scarf around her neck and some cute shoes on her feet, because Grandma had style. With her jewelry chiming, she would reach out her arms for a hug, and that is when I would inhale her wonderful scent.

There was always a lot of catching up to do when we showed up for a visit. I would pull up one of the sturdy oak stools, put my elbows on the counter and rest my chin in my hands. Grandma would offer me some food and something to drink, and I would sneak a few Jelly Belly's out of the tin that sat above the counter on the shelf that held her collection of cookbooks. If I was really lucky, there would be home made coffee cake or "adult" brownies. Sometimes it would be the wonderful chicken and grapes over an English muffin that Papa would make. Sometimes it was chili or "rodeo stew". No matter what it was, the food at Grandma's house was always delicious.

I spent thirty years of my life walking through that heavy white door and being welcomed into that old farmhouse. The memories flood my head and heart whenever I think of that time. During the many hours spent at my grandparent's house in my youth, my sister and I would usually wander off to explore the big old house with its creaky wood floors and white painted trim. We often wound up in the dark cool basement, where we spent hours playing ping pong and Foosball. The basement freezer always seemed to be stocked with Dreamsicles and Rocket Pops, and we would help ourselves to refreshing frozen treats. Sometimes we would climb the dark, creaky staircase that lead to the top floor and dig through a bin of old clothes so that we could play dress up in my Grandmother's old dresses and hats. Other times we would pour ourselves onto the comfortable couch by the brick fireplace where we would spend hours reading through the hardback collection of children's books and watching old black and white shows like The Addams Family and Mr. Ed.  But the best times of all were when Grandma would invite us into her bedroom. Her bedroom, early on was small and dark but full of her beautiful things. Later it was remodeled into a large, light filled space with tons of windows, a fireplace, feminine green and yellow floral wallpaper and the thickest, most wonderful celedon green carpet that felt like you were walking on pillows. The room was always filled with her sweet scent, and she always seemed to have something special and thoughtful tucked away that was just for each of us.

I realize that I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up loving my family, all of them. And they loved me. As the second oldest of all the grandchildren on both sides, I watched all my little cousins receive that same attention, connection and love from our grandparents. We were all made to feel special and important. We were all seen. We were all loved. Every single one of us.

My grandma passed away over 10 years ago in that very house. With her passing, came a great void in my life, just like the lives of so many other members of my family. I hold my memories of her close to my heart and I feel great honor and pride that I am her granddaughter. Going back to her old house would make me feel like I was walking into her loving embrace. That old house was my deepest earthly connection with my grandmother.

Grandma and her jingly jewelry.

Papa grew old and ill of mind and body. The family had to move him to a full-care facility, which left his home with the glossy white brick wall empty. The old farmhouse, with its paneling, floral wallpaper, worn wood floors and white brick wall was never meant to be empty. The old house sat there, alone. Three years passed and during that time the family had to make some tough decisions regarding the house and the six acres on which it sat. Papa's health continued to decline and the cost of his care continued to rise. During that time, my husband and I spent nights sitting awake in bed, pen and notepad in hand, making lists upon lists that mapped out our future. We wanted to buy the old farm house with the painted white brick wall and restore it to its former glory. We wanted the doors to always remain open to family. We desired raising our children within those walls, but making a move back to Iowa during a sluggish economy was frightening. We told the family what we could pay, but it was under the value, and we knew that. We prayed. We waited for a sign: like a job offer or anything that would indicate that moving back to Iowa was in our best interest. Nothing happened, so we continued our lives here in Colorado with my grandparents' empty house always tugging at my heart and the 'what-ifs' taunting my head. I still question if we made the right decision or if we let an opportunity pass out of fear and immobility.

Recently, the house sold. Unfortunately it sold outside of the family and for not much more than what we offered. The new buyers said that they had many plans for remodeling. Apparently their remodeling plans quickly turned into a different strategy, as just a few weeks ago they completely demolished the house with the white brick wall. It was clearly theirs to destroy, as they bought and paid for it. Still, that fact does not ease the pain from our families' loss of their literal and physical foundation. I know it doesn't ease mine.


My mom and I have had a few really thought provoking discussions because of the demise of the old farmhouse, which has been a blessing since we are both insanely "busy" in our own full and demanding lives. During one of our talks my mom reminded me of a quote from the movie Hope Floats.


“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it's what's in the middle that counts. So when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.”

The book of the old farmhouse is over. The house is gone forever, it's doors eternally closed to all who found grace and recognition there. The white brick wall, with its uncanny capacity to represent the ultimate love, acceptance and belonging is now nothing but dust and rubble. All that remain are photographs, stories and memories. The time has come to open a new book..... and start writing.....

I know now that that house, specifically that brick wall within the house, was merely a symbol of the greatest things in life: Giving love and hope to those around you. Accepting people for their truth, and showing support of them. Building a solid foundation for your family. Being steadfast and supportive. Maintaining the beauty and dignity around you and within you. Remembering where you came from but never forgetting who you truly are. Living with intention and integrity. And making the middle really count.

Grandma once told me that she watched Gone with the Wind in the theatre
and she loved it so much that she called her mom and asked if she could stay and watch it again.
 Her mom said no.
Grandma wanted white pillars like Tara had in Gone with the Wind.
Papa gave them to her.... naturally.



Have you ever been loved unconditionally? Have you ever really been seen and then still accepted by another? It is truly a blessing to have people in your life who do this for you. It is truly a gift to be able to feel this for someone else. I am one of the fortunate ones, for not only have I been given love regardless of all my nonsense, I have also been able to give it, regardless of other's nonsense. I learned that from my sturdy, tiny grandmother and one sturdy, glossy, white brick wall.

Every day brings a new realization, and every day the wound heals a bit. I am rebuilding a foundation, keeping in mind my past but also embracing the future and the unknown. I inherited all of my grandmother's "junk jewelry" after she passed. I wear something of hers almost every day. It keeps her close in my thoughts and actions. In fact, I jingle a little myself now, especially when I'm in the kitchen.



This video is dedicated to my mama.





35 comments:

  1. I tried to buy my Grandparents home and it too sold outside the family. I died a little inside that day. You put into words exactly what those old farmhouses mean to us. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Liz. This whole experience has really had quite an impact on me. I'm sorry for you loss, too.

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  2. What a beautiful post! I can totally relate. My grandparents' house, the birthplace of countless wonderful memories, was bought by a hoarder and virtually destroyed from the inside out. I think of how my grandma would feel - she took so much pride in the place. It makes me sad.

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    1. I was just telling my mom the other day that I didn't know what would be worse: having it gone forever or having it remain with it's doors forever closed to us all. It's all sad. I'm so sorry about your grandparents' home. I'll bet it was lovely in its day.

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  3. Johi,you really struck a chord with me, because I was also blessed with the greatest grandma in existence. Not a day goes by that I don't wonder what she would do in a situation (most likely feed us Oreos and ice cream) and ache that my kids never got to feel her hugs or smell her dimestore Tabu perfume. The man who bought their home still has our swingset up - he's lived there for 10 years now. I still feel like I should just walk in that front door and see the quilt up on the rack, waiting to be finished, smell some sort of deliciousness wafting from the kitchen, and run to the basement to have wheelchair races with my brother. Maybe we should make WWGD bracelets - because I sure seek her guidance an awful lot. I think it's safe to say we have the best guardian angels EVAH. <3

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    1. Your grandma sounds amazing. I too talk to mine a lot to this day. The answers just don't come so easily anymore. I agree with you on the guardian angel thing. I love the idea of the bracelets. :) xoxo

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  4. Great house. Great people, too.

    I didn't know it had been torn down. Or sold, for that matter. Now I'm sad.

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    1. It has been quite a blow for all of us. It was all difficult- the decisions, the selling process, all of it. I think everyone would agree to that.

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  5. I just remembered the first time I was ever in your grandparents's house. I'd never met them, but my truck broke down at the rodeo grounds and I needed to use a phone and they were the only people in town that I had even a remote connection to. Of course they not only let me use the phone, they invited us in and offered us food, and offered to let the friends who were with me stay there while I took care of the truck. On top of all that, your grandma was concerned about the character of the guy who had given us a ride, so she had your grandpa go out and send him on his way and volunteered Charlie to give us a ride back to the truck in his Dart (awesome car, I hope he still has it).

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    1. This is my favorite ever. Thank you so much for sharing this story! It made me smile!

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  6. Simply Beautiful, Johi! That's all anyone can really ask for are wonderful memories that we can connect to as we grow. Your story reminded me of my own grandma (my mom's mom, who has been gone for 13 years now)but lived in a house where she raised 12 kids, and that house still stands, with family in it. Although changed and redone, I am fortunate to be able to see it now and again. There are things in my life that will happen to bring me back to her, smells, tactile memories, visuals such as a rosary, which she wore around her neck in a particular manner, looking at a classring and remembering the one she wore of her youngest son after he was killed in a car accident at 18 years of age,(she never took it off through the rest of her 91 years of age) And, she was so good at writing little notes (I have several of them saved), and I will come across those every once in a while with peculiar timing, so I know she's still watching over me and her other 31 grandkids who she, too, made feel all uniquely special. Love these memories, Johi! I know that this had to have been difficult to write but at the same time "releasing" and eloquently stated. Thanks for sharing it, and I hope you didn't mind me sharing a short memory of my own grandma (I couldn't help it!) :) Love & Hugs to you!

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    1. 32 grandkids?!?! WOW! Ahh, you've got to love those giant Catholic families!
      I'm so glad that you shared your own story about your grandmother. I was hoping that all of my readers would find some kind of a personal connection with my story. Yours is perfect! Love and hugs right back at you!

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  7. What a beautiful tribute to your grandparents. I remember them both and the house well from Rodeo days. Mmm, such good chilli. It's sad but true you can't go home again. I felt so lost when I heard the news my family's old farmhouse burned down. I visit it often in my dreams.

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    1. Thank you Angerie. That house always came alive at Rodeo time for sure! I'm so sorry to hear about your family's old farmhouse. I remember it very well, too. Jess and I had great times there with you and Phillip.

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    1. Thanks Jayne. So are you. :)Thanks for reading and for all your support.

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  9. Big hugs, ma sister!

    I always think of my grandparent's house when I imagine settings from novels, or it shows up in dreams. It seems to be ingrained in my mind as the setting for "home." I too remember walking into a tiny kitchen where grandma seemed to always be cooking something, and grandpa was usually sitting in his chair at the kitchen table, watching a baseball game on the small TV on the wheeled stand in the corner. My grandparents died when I was very young, but those memories remain and remind me of love.

    Thanks for sharing this. I know how devestated you were when the house was demolished. Hopefully this means that it was not meant for you to relocate there, although that doesn't lessen the pain, I know. Stay strong, babe. Love you.

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    1. I love your memory of your grandparents, Misty! Thanks for being such a great friend. I adore you.

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  10. Johi,
    Great post.
    I remember the first time at Grandma Rose's table. I was probably 9 or 10 years old. Your Grandma gave me a cookie and something to drink after your Mom took me on a "trail ride" around thet back fields.(I got to ride a small white horse).As a little girl i thought your Grandma was such a nice lady.(I am sure the cookies were really good too!)
    Needless to say i was lucky enought to return to her house many, many times over the years.

    Jo, It IS sad that the house is gone, but it was just a house. You and all the people you love continue to be the best memories past and future.

    Take care.
    Robin

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    1. Thanks for sharing your memory, Robin. I am loving everything that is coming from this post, particulary those memories of grandparents (mine and others).

      I totally agree with your statement about the people being the best part. That house was special because of the people and memories there.

      Hope to see you soon!

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  11. It was a very well written post, a lovely post, your voice entirely authentic.

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    1. Wny thank you, Unknown. I put a lot of thought into it. I appreciate the kind words.

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    2. Last year we drove up to Central Washington to see the old farmhouse where we spent so many summers with my grandparents. Pulling up the dirt road we saw that they had levelled the orchards, torn down the farmhouse and stables, and put in a mobile storage facility. I felt as though my heart had been torn out through my chest. I wish we'd never gone. How blessed you are to still have that house that built you.

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    3. Ummmmm....Go reread the post Jen. They ripped down the house.
      That sucks for you and your family. It is so hard to watch people destroy things that meant so much to you. I'm so sorry.

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  12. Hmmm...."adult" brownies? Is that anything like "special" brownies? Ya, I didn't think so...that was just my grandma. ;) I'm so happy you were able to write this, it's beautiful, just like you!

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    1. I love every dorky bit of you.

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  13. I don't have many memories of going to this house but the few that I do have I will never forget. Once we camped in the beautiful yard and the other we spent in the guest room. Both times we were there for the rodeo and our horses spent the night in the barn. I remember eating in the big screened in room and your Grandma showing me a picture hanging on her wall that you painted. This house was special as were the people that lived in it.
    Love,
    Sheryl

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    1. Thank you for sharing this memory with me, Sheryl. xoxo

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  14. So, as a first cousin/once removed, Johi, we did spend time in our Aunt Rose's house too when we visited! This us so wonderfully written, I may have to share it myself!

    Here is what I remember most: loads of people around all the time, a lot of 8x10 pictures of rodeo queens in the dining room (we don't have any of them in Virginia!), the extra bedroom off the dining room with the #1 worst bed in the entire US of A, the small kitchen where she helped me take medicine after our 1972 car accident (unfortunately, it was mixed with Malt Chocolate Ovaltine and it took me nearly 25 years to try chocolate milk again!), the aged furniture in the living room and the screened porch. We drove a Winnebago there more than once so that we would not "get in the way" with our family of 8! Loved exploring the barns and the tree swing.

    What great people. What a fabulous family we have! I hope to get to meet you and your nuclear family some day when we have our next family reunion! (I think we met once or twice in AZ when my sister Nora lived there...)

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    1. Love love love this comment, Molly! Thanks for reading and sharing! I look forward to meeting you too.

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  15. I have similar memories of my grandmother's house. And it met a similar demise. Your post brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully written, as always!!

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    1. Canis! It's been so long! Thanks so much. I'm so sorry about your Grandmother's home.

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  16. I'm sorry they demolished the house, but at least you have a lot of great memories.

    I think your mom and my mom use the same scented lotion.

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  17. Beautiful story. Reminds how much I truly miss my Grammie. We loss her in April 2009, but really she had Alzheimer's for 2 years before. I miss her so very much. I have wonderful memories like you of her home of my growing up years. So sorry for the loss you've had but the memories they remain.

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  18. Beautifully written post, Johi. Made me cry. Just lost my grandpa a couple of months ago and we still live on the ranch he scrapped to buy in the 70's. His memory is all over this place. I miss him so much. :)

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